The problem with SSDI’s trial work program

July 28, 2015

When you’re on SSDI (social security disability insurance) the presumption is that your disability prevents you from working. Ok, I get that. But what if you want to return to work part time or full time? Ah, that’s and interesting process.20120809_220808

Everyone gets a different amount of money through SSDI. The formula is based on how much you paid into the system, and that in turn comes from the salary you earned and over how many months you earned it. You might be getting $900 per month or $1800 per month. If you’re on SSDI for more than 2 years then you’re eligible for Medicare, which is health insurance. You’re also more likely to be eligible for other benefits.

Now, what happens if you start doing some work? Well, at a certain point the SSA (Social Security Administration) decides that you’re able to support yourself. That point is a set number. It’s not a percentage of your benefit. Nope. It’s a set number: $1090 per month right now (this can change each year.) So if your benefit is $900 and you start earning $1100 then you lose SSDI and Medicare, but that might be ok with your extra income if you’re earning $1100 every month. You might only earn it occasionally, though (more on that in a bit.) But if your benefit is $1800 and you earn $1100, then you lose SSDI and Medicare and, unless you have unearned income from some source (like a spouse, alimony, or investments) then you’re probably screwed.

That’s how I feel now: screwed. I’m ready to do some small amounts of work, which is exciting in and of itself! I recently earned around $1100! This is very exciting! If it was all in 1 month, though, it would count towards my return to work trial period of 9 months total. Those total 9 months are spread out over 5 years, so I could work for 2 months per year, and still lose my benefits. That’s not good! Luckily for me, it was spread out over 3 months, at an average of under $400 per month. What a relief!

But wait, isn’t there something wrong with the system if I feel relieved to earn less money? Shouldn’t the goal be to get me back to work so that I don’t need benefits?

What if I make more than $1090 per month for 3 months this year? Then what if the same thing happens again next year? I’d stop working altogether so I wouldn’t risk going off benefits. I can’t afford to have 0 income, and I definitely can’t afford to lose my health insurance!

Instead, the system should encourage me to work part time with the hope that I would build up to more part time work or even full time work! The trial work period should only cover a short timeframe, like a certain number of months worked in a 1 or 2 year period. There should be a grace period for Medicare.

But with the current setup, I’m scared to attempt to go back to work. What if I try to work, lose my benefits, and then fail to continue working? Yes, there’s a grace period where I can get back on benefits, but it’s short. And I’m scared. It took me more than 2 years to get on SSDI in the first place. I can’t take a chance on losing it.

And that’s why the system doesn’t work.

Have you felt the same way about SSDI? How do you handle it? Do you hold back on the amount of work you do in order to stay on benefits?

The new meaning of “Can I afford that?” when you live on SSDI

January 23, 2015

A friend just emailed me about a good deal on something I’d like to buy. But can I afford the $72 for 20120809_220808something that I don’t really need? Yes and no.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I was raised in a middle class family. When I was born my parents started a college fund, and I graduated from school without any debt. Actually, I had money in the bank because I’d learned to save what I earned from my various jobs. I was taught to never spend more than you had. Credit cards were to be paid off in full every month. I worked all through graduate school and never paid a dime in tuition. I had plenty of problems in life, but I never had debt. I feel so fortunate for that, I am so thankful for the good money lessons my parents taught me.

So when I had to leave my job due to disability, I had savings. Many people don’t. And I managed to get SSDI. Many people don’t. I am so grateful for all of that.

But for the first time in my life, money began to stress me out when I left my job. From the time I started babysitting at age 12, I’d always worked. I’d always had a way to earn money. Sometimes I worked part time, sometimes only on school vacations, but I always worked. Several years back I quit a job where I was unhappy and it was my first real break, but I had planned for it, I had savings, and I was highly employable, so I knew that I could get a job whenever I wanted and needed it. After some time off, I went back to work. I never earned a high salary, but I was frugal and I saved.

When I became too sick to work, though, it was all different. Not having the option of going back to work was stressful. There would be no way to replenish what I spent. That savings account is a huge comfort, but it won’t last forever. And then what?

SSDI is helpful, but it’s not enough. It almost covers my rent. Almost. I have food stamps that almost pay for my groceries. Almost. The extra rent and grocery costs are about $100 every month out of my savings account. Every single purchase beyond my rent comes out of my savings account. Electricity, gas for cooking, car insurance, gas for the car, phone, internet, very limited entertainment, and occasional clothing all come out of my savings account. And medical expenses. Oh, the medical expenses.

Each time I consider if I can afford something, I know that technically I can. Technically I have the money sitting in my savings account. But I also see those savings going down every month. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to earn more than I spend. So should I save that $72 for the future? And what about the present? There are doctors and medical tests that I think might help but that I’m putting off because they aren’t covered by insurance. Of course, those are hundreds or thousands of dollars, not just $72, but it’s the same idea. If I’m not pulling money out of savings for those doctors and tests, should I really do it for something more frivolous? And if I really wanted to pull money out of savings for something fun, I’d get a pet. But I can’t pull money out for those big things, so getting something little might be fun and comforting. Or I could spend even less and get something else I’d really like, like a new sweater. My clothes are all old and out of style and starting to get threadbare. But even if it was only $30, I would still have to take that money out of savings. And that brings me back to the start of my reasoning: technically I can afford it, but I probably shouldn’t.

Each little “just this once” adds up. $72 here, $15 there, and my savings account keeps shrinking. I’m so grateful to have that account. I want to make it last as long as possible.

Then again, maybe I’ll just take $1 out of savings and go buy a lottery ticket. Then maybe I could afford it all.

Good news: I was denied SSDI

November 1, 2012

You’re probably wondering about that title.  Shouldn’t I be upset that I was denied SSDI?  I should be, but I’m not.

I’ll admit, I teeny tiny part of me was hoping that I’d be approved for SSDI on the first application, and that teeny tiny part of me is a little bit disappointed.  It would have made things immeasurably easier, no doubt about it.  But I also know that a ton of people get denied the first time around.  I read the denial rate was 80%.  I don’t know if that’s accurate, but more than 80% of the people I know have been denied the first time they applied, so I was assuming I would be too.  What I didn’t expect at all was that it would happen so quickly!  I applied for SSDI less than 2 months ago.  At the time, the web confirmation told me to expect a response within 4 months, but I assumed that was wrong.  I figured I wouldn’t hear anything for at least 6 months, maybe even a year.  And I heard today!

So I’m saying this is good news, because now I get to appeal the decision this month, instead of having to wait until next spring.  As soon as I speak with my lawyer I can start the next stage of this annoying, irritating, frustrating, exasperating process.  The sooner I get approved, the easier my life will be.  I am fortunate to be in a position where I can manage not having any income in the short term, but I’m not exactly wealthy, and not having an income in the long term could be a real problem.  I don’t want to cringe tomorrow when I buy the large 24-pack of toilet paper, but I know I will.  I don’t want to wear pants that are 2 sizes too big because I can’t justify even thrift store spending, but I do.  I don’t want to depend on others to support me, but without SSDI I will have to.  SSDI may not pay much (actually, it would be $3 more than my current rent each month!) but it’s still far better than nothing!

So starting tomorrow (or whenever my lawyer gets back to me) I can be proactive and work on appealing this damn thing!  I’ll let you know what happens….

STD and SSDI: Who designs these things?

December 7, 2011

I visited a friend yesterday who was recovering from surgery.  He had built up a lot of sick time at work over the years, since he is generally healthy, so he will use sick days to cover his month out of work.  He has an understanding boss, who knows that he may need to take off extra time.  His health insurance covered the majority of the costs of the surgery.

He asked me how I’m doing, and how I’m managing to be out of work.  He meant financially.  My friend is smart and well-educated, but he got a new kind of education from me yesterday.

First, we discussed how my short term disability (STD) works.  I’m lucky to have an especially good plan.  We talked about how poorly my boss handled my exit, which makes me wonder if my reentry will be difficult.  We talked about how I want to return to work part time because I’m worried that returning full time will lead to a quick relapse.  Unfortunately, it is up to my boss whether or not I can return part time.  If she allows it, then I will return to work a few days a week, and STD will cover part of my salary for the days I don’t work.  Of course, at some point STD will run out, at which point I’ll just earn a whole lot less.  I should be able to cover all of my bills, but I won’t be able to put any money into savings.  Of course, I need to put money into savings more than ever, as I’ve realized that my body will force “retirement” on me much earlier than I’ll be able to afford.

Then we talked about social security (SSDI.)  We discussed how I may not even be eligible for it.  If I am eligible, then the application process is long and arduous.  Most people are denied and then need to appeal.  If I were to get approved, it could take two years.  For those two years I wouldn’t be working, so I’d be draining my savings account.  The amount I would get would be just a bit less than what my rent is now.  It wouldn’t be enough for electricity, gas, or groceries.

Now, let’s say I did get SSDI.  I have a fluctuating illness.  I have weeks and months and years where I feel better, then I feel worse.  When I feel better I could work.  But I’d lose SSDI and if I needed it again, I’d have to start applying all over again.  That’s why many people are on SSDI even though they are well enough to work.  They know that getting off SSDI now would be devastating if they ever needed it again.  So they stay on it even though they are well enough to work.

My friend just shook his head in sadness, thinking of the many, many people caught up in this horrible system.  And I’m one of the lucky ones: I have STD, I have family to fall back on, I have good health insurance, and I have a little money in my savings account.  I could be so much worse off.  But I am wondering how to pay for the acupuncture treatments that I just started today.  My health insurance doesn’t cover those.

When when I consider all of this, the insurances and the government “help” and all the rest, I just have one question:


I don’t know who it is, but I’d be willing to bet that they don’t need to use the system themselves.  If they did, they’d be working to change it.

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